Monday, August 08, 2005

No Compromises

There's The Rub : A good man

Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

THE LAST time I saw Raul Roco was late last year at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. He was there, along with people who still knew how to be grateful, to bear witness to the induction of a few more Filipinos into the nation's pantheon of heroes. Among them was a good friend of his, Bobbit Sanchez. Raul looked so much better than he did during the campaign, and I told him so. He was pleased with my assessment and said that was probably because he still had much to do.

Alas, his sojourn on earth would not remain long. I would hear from Vic, Bobbit's son, that days before Raul died, he had been heard in his twilight hours to carry on snatches of conversations with Bobbit. Well, he can at least be assured of pleasant company where he is now. Though it wouldn't hurt, from where I stand, for him to be given a share of Bobbit's company as well in the Wall of Remembrance. Heaven knows plain decency in public office has taken on the proportions of exceptional heroism in this country.

That is what makes Raul Roco straddle this world like a colossus, as Cassius said of Caesar, despite his seeming failures. He was-a good man.

He was a decent politician in an occupation grown more indecent over the years, he was a principled lawyer in a country grown more lawless over the years, he was an honorable man in a world where honor sold more cheaply than DVDs in Quiapo. His virtues are not hard to see, his light is made brighter all the more by the darkness that suffuses this land, particularly that part found in the Palace by the Pasig River.

I will always remember him in three contexts that reveal his character more than anything else.

The first one was during the height of the Erap (Joseph Estrada) impeachment trial. A young lawyer, Jasmin Banal, who had worked in a law firm that created dummy corporations for Erap, took the stand. Miriam Defensor-Santiago tried to demolish her credibility by asking her why she transferred from that firm to another one that offered lower pay.

Santiago said: "So you made the unusual deviation from the usual career path, since you and I and all UP law graduates virtually pursue the same career path after graduation. Isn't that so? We try and get the highest salary we can get... But in your case, you transferred from a law office with a higher salary to a law office with a lower salary. Is that correct?" Banal replied, "Yes." Santiago commented, "Remarkable."

When it was Raul's turn, he had this dialogue with Banal: Raul: "We in San Beda Law, we were taught that law is a noble profession, it is not a business. Am I right to assume that you in UP Law were taught the same thing?" Banal: "Yes, Your Honor." Raul: "What is written on the UP Law School, engraved in stone?" Banal: "The business of a law school is not to teach law but to teach law in the grand manner." Raul: "We are brothers and sisters in the profession, we should always be motivated by a sense of idealism. Is this correct?" Banal: "Yes, Your Honor." Raul: "So when you transfer from a higher-paying job to a lower-paying job, that is not necessarily an erroneous career decision? In fact, it could be motivated by a sense of idealism?" Banal: "Yes, Your Honor."

Raul: "Yes. I thought that should be elicited because I was surprised to learn that the usual career path of lawyers is going from lower-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs."

Infuriated, Santiago vented her ire on the gallery and made them grasp the meaning of law by having three of them-Dante Jimenez, Bettina Aboitiz and Rosanna Tuason-Fores-forcibly removed from the premises. The reason? "They were eyeing me provocatively."

The second incident was during a visit to Naga during the Pe├▒afrancia Fiesta some years ago. Raul was a devout believer in "Ina," which is how Bicolanos call Our Lady of Pe├▒afrancia. He credited her with many miracles in his life, not least how his wife, Sonia, survived being trapped in the rubble of the Nevada Hotel in the Baguio earthquake of 1990.

It was September 2003, and the surveys were still talking about him as the candidate to beat in the elections. When we saw each other in Naga, the first thing he asked me was whether I had already paid my visit to "Ina." His voice was earnest. I said, yes, I had just dropped by the Cathedral. I did not add that, not being tremendously religious, I did it more out of a devout wish to soak in nostalgia than out of a compelling need to fall to my knees in devout prayer. When we were kids, we used to occupy the part of the church near the altar as the choir, fighting off the vapors of sleep in early morning. We were the honors class, and for some reason-completely fallaciously in my case-the school authorities seemed to have believed that sound voices lurked in sound minds.

Raul seemed in such great anxiety about the state of my soul. He genuinely looked relieved at my answer and said no one may be too busy to attend to the affairs of heaven. He never advertised his religious convictions, he kept them to himself. It was between him and his God. He never claimed to have been anointed by God and ordered to cheat his way to the presidency. He probably figured that if he told a lie, it wasn't just that God would know, it was that he would.

And finally Raul had no end of stories to tell about his father. His father was a farmer who showed him that he had much to learn from the land. One day, when he was a small boy, he and his father were walking along the fields when his father stopped and pointed out the grain to him. "Look at the rice stalks," his father said. "When they are empty, they hold their heads high. When they are full, they bow their heads. Follow the example of the grain." To the end of his life, Raul never forgot that lesson.

He lived to be a good man.

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